This Dec. 22, 2011 photo, a tray of sea urchin roe is at a processing facility in Portland, Maine. During the heyday, Maine urchin fishermen harvested more than 40 million pounds of the spiny creatures a year. A move is now under way to jumpstart the industry, which has fallen on hard times. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is expected to boost efforts to create a viable sea-urchin aquaculture sector in the Gulf of Maine.

Maine’s wild urchin fishery is still tightly regulated after being overharvested decades ago. Steve Eddy, director of the University of Maine’s Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research, says oyster and seaweed farmers could benefit by adding urchins to their crops for sale to Asian markets or live delivery to American restaurants.

“In Japan and maybe like France and Greece, some parts of Europe, where people buy live, whole urchins, they will pay $2, $3, as much as $5 per animal,” he said.

Wholesale prices would likely be lower. But before a Gulf of Maine urchin aquaculture sector could get up and running, Eddy said, methods for hatching and growing seedlings will need to be improved.

The $100,000 federal grant will enhance techniques already under development at the university research station in Franklin.

This article appears through a media partnership with Maine Public.